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10/28/05 If a wireless network signal is available, can I use it?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / October 26, 2005 9:16 AM PDT

If I am at home and my wireless computer picks up a nearby network, is it OK to use it? Are there any laws against this? If I do use it, can the person with the service see who is using it and what I am looking at?

Submitted by: Steve P.


Hello, your first question is a variable one to say the least ("If I am at home and my wireless computer picks up a nearby network, is it OK to use it?"). This highly depends on where you live, and whom you live by. ("Are there any laws against this?") I will try to answer both questions, since they are related. As I mentioned, it depends on where you live. We have no law against picking up any open airwave signal. This does not make it OK, though; morals are another issue. Do you want to use someone else?s connection without their knowledge? If a neighbor knows you are picking up the connection and doesn't mind sharing it, things might be all right. However, there are other things to consider, mainly security, yours and theirs. There is a high possibility of them or someone else accessing other PCs on your home network, including your files and folders. If someone shares your connection and decides to do whatever bad things one can do on the Internet, you could be a target for blame or simply a target. Either way, this needs close consideration.

War driving is another issue that affects wireless, which is where hackers, etc... drive by looking for a vulnerable wireless connection to hack, in which a hacker may use your PC for his\her purposes. Eg-hijacking. If you share a connection, especially without knowledge of whose it is, they may not be protected against hackers, and other infiltrating baddies. You will make yourself vulnerable to all this as well.

Since security is a major issue with this, you should always use a firewall which does wonders for keeping out hackers and other intruders. XP has a built in firewall which by default is (usually) turned on. You may notice a small red shield in the lower right toolbar. There are a few good (FREE) firewalls also. Zone Alarm has a slender version for free use and seems to be one of the best out there. There are numerous others as well. Usually, without a firewall, wireless or otherwise, there is a 16 minute time recommendation to be on before you are considered hacked. Personally, I won't connect without one.

Antivirus is another major factor. XP does not have anti-virus software pre-installed but you may get a free one also. AVG is one of the many. There is also EFS:Encrypting file system. This is a feature of Windows XP but not on the previous, 98 \95 or ME. I will try to explain it in a shorter, more understanding term. You can encrypt files or folders on your computer which scrambles the information so only people you specify can read them. You may set a password for an encrypted file or folder also. But always remember, write the password down or you yourself cannot access the file if forgotten! If a hacker tries to read these files, (in theory) he\she will not gain access to them. Most often, for an average user, a hacker will not take the time and effort needed to try and decrypt a file or folder that is not of major importance.

Automatic Windows updates are also a must. Keeping up with fixes for security issues is not something that should be overlooked. Microsoft puts these fixes out usually knowing of an issue that has already or is about to occur.

Anti spyware is another consideration. A free Adaware version is available and works wonderfully. There are numerous others to choose from and worth a look if you don't already have a good one. Spyware can be a danger and should be guarded against. You can leak your personal information to certain spywares that may actually get your credit card number or other information. I have seen this happen to friends of mine. Many spywares simply track which sites you visit for business purposes but it's best to keep it all away.

In general, if you and your neighbor are both protected well, and don't mind sharing a connection (keeping in mind the issues above, and that it is not illegal where you live or with the service provider) then a mutual sharing can be alright. Many times though, a connection may degrade with more users connecting to it. With wireless, depending on the signal, you may pick it up from neighbor A but neighbor B starts getting the signal and suddenly the connection can be all but useless. There are many factors involved with this, how strong the origin of the connection, types of weather, etc...

As for the last part of your question, (If I do use it, can the person with the service see who is using it and what I am looking at? ) The answer is YES. You can be seen on their pc. If they have proper knowledge of how to check for other PCs connected to the network, they may very well catch you.

There are hordes of different software and methods for both parties, one to try and use the connection without being detected, and the other to stop and/or see who is using the connection. One doesn't have to be a specialist to see who is using their PC connection. I learned in 3 days, the basic ins and outs of seeing if I'm hacked. Once again, this is also a moral issue and if you think about it, do you want to go through all the trouble of using another person's connection without their knowledge?

It would be, in my opinion, if you surely want to use the neighbor's connection, is to ask them. If they get mad, don't be surprised as many people feel like they are being violated. If they are ok with it, discuss with them if they take secure measures and explain that (hopefully) you will too. You can then share in harmony.

Hope this helped

Submitted by: Paul K.
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Honorable mentions
by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / October 26, 2005 9:16 AM PDT

For the most part if you are seeing a network that is not yours it would be advisable not to connect to it. There are several reasons for this.

First off, if you are seeing somebody else's network, it is definitely not very secure, and who knows who else may be eavesdropping on the connection. In most areas, it is against the law to tap into someone else's wireless network, and is considered similar to doing the same with cable television, electricity and so forth. Penalties can range anywhere from a small fine to a larger fine and community service, once again depending on the laws of your specific area. Chances are the person who owns or runs the network will be able to see anything and everything you do through the connection if they know what they are doing. And even if they don't, seeing as how the network is essentially open, anyone within range could spy on your activities. The bottom line is that you would be using something that somebody else has paid for without their knowledge, essentially stealing.

The one exception to this rule would be a wi-fi network set up as a municipal service by either your town or a company contracted by your town or neighborhood. However, if this is the case you will most likely know about it already, and you would probably at least be required to log in securely with a username and password, and most likely pay at least a small fee for it as well.

The main point is that if you see a network and it has not been set up by you, or you have not been given permission to use it by the administrator of the network, don't use it. You are only setting yourself up for a fair number of complications, legal or otherwise.

Submitted by: Michael B. of East Falmouth, MA



Hi, Steve! Your question covers a wide range of topics, ranging from technical to legal. Regarding the legal stuff - you need to know that I'm not a lawyer, and neither I nor C/Net can dispense legal advice. Further, I don't know where you live; and different countries view this matter differently. So please don't base your actions on any opinions you read here. You must always consult your local authorities for the rules in your area.

Wireless routers have become very popular; and security software, although supplied by the manufacturer, does not install by default. You have to put it in place manually. As a result, there are a large number of unprotected wireless networks out there, and finding them - and accessing them - is very simple.

The practise of looking for unprotected wireless networks is popularly called 'war driving'; it takes its name from a similar practise called 'war dialing', in which you use automated software to dial every number in the phone book, looking for private, unprotected phone access networks. The concept of war dialing was first popularised in the movie 'War Games', which is where the whole 'war' prefix originated. (It's a great movie, by the way; if you've not seen it, give it a view.)

It's my belief that in most areas, when you log on to a network that you don't have permission to use, you're committing theft of telecommunications services. That's a very serious crime, which usually carries jail time; and once you've served your time, the damage to your reputation, the fines, the court costs and the legal fees will cripple you financially for decades. It's completely out of proportion to the $40 per month cost involved in getting your own high speed internet connection.

Can others see the websites you're surfing to? Practically speaking, not usually; but whenever you surf, you leave footprints. You leave footprints on your computer, on the computer of the person who is hosting the ISP connection, on the router log files, and on the ISP central servers. Your surfing activity can be reconstructed from these logs. It's slow and painstaking work, but very exact; and if you come to the attention of the law enforcement people, they will be able to track absolutely every website you visited, and tell you - right to the second - when you logged on, as well as exactly how long you were there. You should also know that there DOES exist management software that will display on another computer, in real time, the websites you're visiting. It's unusual to see this kind of software outside of a corporate environment; but it does exist, and it will not only log the URLs you've visited, but do meticulous content capture, as well. If you visit sexually explicit sites and get caught, you can expect 24 X 30 inch color glossy prints to be displayed in the courtroom - and, if you're really unlucky, on the front page of the local newspaper as well.

When you log onto another, unprotected network, your MAC address - a kind of serial number associated with your network interface card - is captured by the computer you're logging on to. It needs this, because some networks require the MAC address to identify which machine to send the content to. Because the MAC address is unique to your computer, it provides solid evidence as to which machine was surfing, and when. So yes, your specific machine can be identified.

When people try to steal wireless internet access, it is frequently - but not always - because they intend to commit an illegal act, such as surfing kiddie porn sites or engaging in other illegal communications, such as those pertaining to terrorist or organised crime. Various law enforcement agencies, working hand in hand with local police, are now setting up 'honeypots'; wireless access points that are deliberately left unprotected. You'll think you're surfing anonymously; but in fact, every step you take, every click you make is being meticulously recorded. You can also expect to be videotaped with cameras equipped with powerful, high resolution lenses; and that videotape will be shown at your trial as well.

Bottom line? Going war driving today is a bit like going skydiving without a parachute. You're GOING to get caught, and the horrific penalties involved will ruin your life. My best advice is that you not engage in this practise.

Best wishes

Submitted by: Charles W.



Maybe it's OK, but likely it is not. There is both a legal and an ethical side to this answer.

If the signal is open with no security, yet you know the neighbor doesn't intend you to use his connection; the law may not come after you, but ethically you are in the wrong. If your neighbor left his or her car unlocked with the keys inside and didn't seem to be using it - would it be OK to just jump in and use it for a quick run to the convenience store? And even if you ask your neighbor and your neighbor doesn't care, most ISPs specifically forbid their users from offering use of the service outside their immediate household or place of business. Folks who operate public hotspots typically pay a higher fee to their ISPs to offer this service.

If the signal is secured in some fashion, for example, WEP or WPA, cracking that security is like picking the lock on your neighbor's house. It matters little if the lock is weak or strong, the intent of the lock is clear. If you crack into such a closed system, you are in violation of any number of computer trespass laws.

As to whether or not your neighbor will know you are there depends on the monitoring software built into the wireless access point/router; and whether or not your neighbor checks the security logs. Even the really inexpensive units all seem to record any IP addresses passed out by a built-in DHCP server. I'm sure better units also log any fixed IP addresses for which the unit provided routing services. If NetBIOS services over TCP/IP is enabled, most units also record the name of the computer used for access. Most home PCs tend to have nearly the same name as the primary login account. Inexpensive units rarely track what a specific user does while connected. Most business class firewalls on the other hand, do track where users go.

Submitted by: Jim J.



I also noticed a wireless signal the first time I installed my wireless card into my laptop. Many (if not most) nowadays have it standard built into the new portable models. That's when it gets interesting to me.

Now to deal with the question of legality to "piggy backing" someone else's wireless connection to the web. Most states (if not all, and the feds) have laws to cover the secretive use of a network or its connection. That's called hacking. In fact the states surrounding mine (have not checked for years perhaps mine as well now) have laws so vague, that they make the use of a router illegal. Even the one that's putting out the signal you?re getting. Being prosecuted for using it would be mostly up to the individual who's paying for the connection you're hijacking. The ISP he or she pays to get connected would be most interested if you were using this connection for hacking or spamming purposes. The individual in that case probably wouldn't know. The feds might get involved as well at that point. Such was the case of the "Homeless Hacker who himself did not pay anyone for his connection to hack. He simply would "wardrive", drive around and find a wireless connection he could access and do his thing. I work at a restaurant where a connection can be paid for and accessed on the spot. The one next door offers that service for free...To be honest if you asked them, they might not care if you use it. Only likely if they know and like you.

Now can they tell who you are? Not in most cases. Of course if you were the only house close to them it would be easy to find out, but without specialized equipment, this isn't possible. Unless he's a geek like me and then he could capture your traffic and analyze it. Perhaps even hack your machine. A big risk with laptops. That's why I said it was interesting because under normal installation schemes, these new laptops I mentioned before are wide open for cracking by a hacker within wireless range. (I believe the record is five miles). Your signal is probably only good for half a block or less. This can be changed in many cases and the signal reduced in power (range) when proximity allows for less radio signal strength within your home network. I put my wireless router in the basement because the earth makes a good shield so the signal goes mostly up, not out from my home.

Using encryption can quickly reduce the risk of "wireless hijacking" which is what you would be doing by using a neighbor?s connection. Morally it's stealing in my thinking. Like using another person?s cable TV connection. Even if the one who pays for it knows and permits it. In that case the ISP of the connection in question would probably charge you and win. They would likely kick the "owner" off their network as well. The ISP can't even tell who you are though. Again without specialized equipment and know how. Same answer for what you are looking at. They would have to have the ability to capture your traffic and analyze it. In this case though both the customer and the ISP could do that. If encryption is being used on this network, then it would be much much harder to do this. But then again, if they encrypted the wireless network, (most wireless routers and adapters will do this) then you are not likely to get on that network to begin with. Even if you do receive the signal, encryption would not allow you access. Unless you?re a hacker.

By the way. It's notable here that "hackers" are just people that can make these machines do more then they are designed originally to do. We pick programs apart basically. The hardware also, in my case anyway. For different reasons perhaps but often just for the sake of figuring it out and doing it. Sometimes for money or fame. Even for the job but I do it so I can educate the computer buying public at large to some of the risks awaiting on the shelves of stores around the world. When you use a computer on the web, you are operating a powerful tool. Even if you don't realize or use it that way. Like a gun, in my eyes this should be kept out of the wrong hands. So please, for us all out here. Lock your wireless connection down with encryption or turn it off if not used. You and I will be safer.

Thank you, and happy surfing.

Submitted by: Mark O.



Next Week's question: If I am at home and my wireless computer picks up a nearby network, is it OK to use it? Are there any laws against this? If I do use it, can the person with the service see who is using it and what I am looking at?

My answer: Your questions raise an interesting ethic dilemma. To log on or not to log on? That is the question. Please allow me to answer your questions, then add some of my own observations.

Is it ok to use it? Technically speaking, No. Ethically speaking, is not ok is use someone's bandwidth without their permission. You could consider this a form of stealing. Many of us have done it, but that is no excuse.

Are there any laws against this? Probably, depending on where you live. There have been stories of legislators making "squatting" illegal. "Squatting", I believe, is the informal term for using the WI-FI signal of another without permission of the owner. A piece of friendly advice, consult your local legal professional about the appropriate laws governing this type of act. I found this article about a person in Florida arrested for just this kind of act.

"If I do use it, can the person with the service see who is using it and what I am looking at?" I'll answer this question in two parts. First, "...can the person with the service see who is using it..."; yes, the user probably can if the he or she is advanced enough to detect the MAC address logged into the router. A MAC address is a unique alpha-numeric identifier given to every modem, network card, or other means of Internet connectivity. Second, it is less likely that the owner would be able to see what you are looking at. However, the owner might also be advanced enough to find a log according to your individual MAC address on his system.

A word to the wise: don't use someone else's connectivity even if they?re too stupid to lock down the access properties on their router. Do so at your own risk.

If you choose to buy a wireless router, do yourself a favor and lock down your access properties to include only those MAC addresses which you can specify and READ AND FOLLOW THE MANUAL. You'll avoid more problems than you'll create.

Submitted by: Dan F.




You are asking 3 questions and I will attempt to answer all in no particular order. First, I am unaware of any laws in my city that would prevent me from using an unprotected wireless network. After all, this signal is trespassing into your house. Is it ok to use it? That is a moral question and the only place to answer that is in your own heart. If you were parked in front of someone's house or business with a laptop, you may be on shaky ground, but in your own house... The neighbor that is pushing this signal into your home is, IMHO, more at fault. As to being able to see what you are doing, the fact that this neighbor is unsophisticated enough to allow an unprotected signal into the atmosphere, he/she probably does not have the technical wherewithal to snoop your activities but he/she will probably be able to discern your computer name. (the network name)

You may have noticed that my answer is full of ambiguities. This is intentional because the correct answers cannot be given in black and white in this case. I remember several years ago, just before the satellite tv industry was born, many people were scavenging old dishes and getting network feed. I recall an article where a man somewhere in the heartland said that if you don't want me getting your signal, keep it off my roof. Now, this industry uses scramblers (or encoders) as your neighbor should be doing.

As I stated earlier, this signal is a trespass into your house or apartment. His/her cable/DSL company probably has a no sharing clause but that is not on you. This is not a case of 'they left the front door unlocked'. You are not entering another's territory and you are taking nothing physical. You are, however, taking some bandwidth. If you are just checking email, the impact should be small. If you are file sharing (another moral discussion for another day) the impact is sure to be felt by your neighbor, causing them to possibly find you out. This is your neighbor and you would have to live with that. Another 'neighborly' thing to do would be to inform this neighbor that his/her network is available to the immediate world.

Again, at this time, I believe this to be a moral issue, not a legal one (in my area, anyway - check the laws in yours) and only you can decide what is right for you.

Submitted by: Harvey M. of Coral Springs, FL



This is a gray area of the law right now that is not clear.

What is clear is that if you pick up a wireless network and you access any of the actual computers on the wireless network that you pick up, then you could face prosecution. Indeed, some individuals who parked in a retail store parking lot and accessed computers in the retail store?s network were given prison sentences for their acts, although the credit information on the computers that were accessed was never used for fraudulent transactions in that particular instance.

What is unclear is whether or not you are committing a crime if you merely use the connection to access the internet, without actually accessing any of the computers residing on the intercepted network. As far as I know, no case of this nature has yet created a generally binding precedent, and in any case the answer to your question would depend on where the act was committed, since the legality of the act would have to take into account not only Federal laws but also state and local laws. Broadly speaking, however, such an act could probably be construed as ?theft of service?, even if there are no explicit computer crime laws against it, so it?s not without risk of prosecution.

Can you be detected, and can your own activities be monitored? Yes, definitely, but it would require a lot more software and sophistication than the typical end-user, or even most relatively technical users, have or routinely use.

Submitted by: Barry W. of North Canton, OH



Legally, if you knowingly use someone else's wireless and by extension, their router into their ISP to gain access to the internet; this is called 'Theft of services'. This is the same as hooking up your house into the local cable network by climbing the pole.

As for the owner of the access point seeing what you are doing, no. Unless they have an ethernet sniffer and then they will only be able to see packets of data (and that may include personal information such as credit card numbers, Soc Sec numbers, etc.).

The owner will be able to see your machine's name as most routers will show a list of machines requesting IP addresses (This is called DHCP). Personally, I noticed someone driving around my neighborhood with a laptop on their front seat... later I displayed the DHCP users on my router, and lo and behold, his machine name showed up. I quickly closed down my router to only enable known MAC addresses.

Submitted by: Charlie S.
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--= Simply the Best Solution! =--
by eye2fun / October 28, 2005 10:37 PM PDT
In reply to: Honorable mentions

From reading the winning and runner up responses, I'm left with a vision of being trapped in a 1984 type society. Where the computer you pay for is logged and spied on by not only thieves, but our government and the ever increasingly powerful corporate and business world.

The basic question is: ''Using something that's not yours''?
The Answer: There is a simple rule to go by espoused some 2000 years ago that sums it up quite nicely.
''Do Unto Others, as You Would Have Done to You''!
Just ask yourself if you would like it, if it was the other way around and someone was using your Internet service without asking.

We unwittingly allow (mainly the Internet Business world) others to keep tabs on us through our computers. This encompasses everything we do. From where we go and even including where we accidentally go on the net. It includes what we buy, who we chat with (w/the conversions recorded), etc. etc. on and on and so forth. Unless your a criminal, no one has a right to that information. It seems that the only ones working their hardest to record and access this information are thieves, businesses and other undesirables.

So in order to combat this, many tools have been made available to keep them out of our lives. These previous posts make no attempt to expose any of the weapons at our disposal to ward off the fracas that awaits around every Internet corner, whether using a wireless router, or hard wired one.

In my response I am going Open the Safe and give you some hidden bits of information that you may find valuable.

(a.)Every site wants you to be a member with a user name, password, and email address. I have enough problems remembering my name alone, let alone hundreds of usernames and passwords. Giving out your email so hundreds of pieces of junk mail can overwhelm you is just plain dumb.

SOLUTION! ''BugMeNot''
Supplies a generic username and password for most internet sites. Some I know you might only visit once.

(b.)The all powerful ''MAC'' address! Capable of single handedly keeping track of you on whatever piece of equipment your using. Not any longer!
SOLUTION! Use a router first of all and preferably not a wireless one. Most routers have a configurable ''Mac'' address. You can clone the ''MAC'' of another computer (not the one your useing) to the Router. This in turn is sent to your ISP in order to create your visible IP address. Better yet, simply change one number or letter in the ''MAC'' configuration to change your IP weekly.
No one will ever be quite sure of what computer your using or where you really are. Then just restart your modem and router to get a new IP address. Gamers use this trick online when a temporary crank ''Admin'' bans their IP address, because he doesn't like their name or is mad because they killed them one too many times. The sites you visit will always have a wrongly recorded IP as well then. Just another legal way to avoid the NOID! The less correct information they have the better.

(c.) Site visits, and keystrokes are logged senselessly as if assuming you to be a criminal or for outside businesses to spy on you. Another words in order to sell you something.
SOLUTION! By all means at least empty your cache and delete your history often. Better yet use a tool such as ''Evidence Eliminator'' to secure your information and to keep from piling up gigs of worthless logs that only Microsoft can decypher. Also it is very important to run a program like ''Ad-aware'' or ''Xoftspy'' to eliminate the ever increasing intrusions into our computer life.

By all means don't rely on anything put out by Microsoft. You're just hiring the Fox to Guard the Chickens. Over twenty years of history proves they can't be trusted. Or at least it's never smart to put all your eggs in one basket.

(d.) Your ISP keeps logs that are sometimes given up to unscrupulous temporary employees. Most of the time they could care less where you go, but like with Windows they keep a log just in case? Or maybe just to cover their own rears like the black boxes do for Airlines.
SOLUTION! There are many fine sites that relieve your ISP of this burden. In fact Most corporate networks use something like this to keep their ''Right to Privacy''. Just as we should!

It's called ''Secure Tunneling'', and for as little as $6.25 a month you can run on an encrypted network. Everything you send and receive is encrypted through a hyper tunnel. All logs kept, only reflect your coming and going to your ''Secure Tunnel'' provider. Who normally keeps no logs. These are ''Not Proxy Servers''! You will need to do a very simple install of a program in order to use them. Literally all traffic (downloads, chat, net surfing, newsgroups, P2Ps, etc.) are channeled through their encrypted network servers. Normally you will not see a drop in overall performance. You'll just be safer!

Security and anonymity are yours for a very small price. Noticeably less than what the ''Big Brother'' corporations pay. If your not a criminal, then there is nothing to fear from the law. These days it's all about the Corporate Business (sometimes we fail to realize these are not human by nature, so they don't really care about us) Pick-pockets loose on the net. That's what we should really be afraid of. You probably have plenty of them coming to your door trying to sell the latest and greatest gadget, you don't need or want. You probably ''Don't let them in'', either. So why should you allow these other crooks out on the Internet into your House? Then too I should add, by all means use a ''Personal Firewall'' like Sygate's free one (it's so good Norton recently bought them).

Here's a couple of addresses of sites with programs to help keep you safe: (first one is my choice)

To sum it up, we all have a right to freedom from invasion of our privacy and theft of our personal information by the countless entities roaming the Internet Highway, either wirelessly or through a standard hard line. If you use the net wisely, great benefits can be reaped for us and our children for years to come. Just remember, that you shall reap what you sow, and above all the single greatest commandment. Always Do Unto Others As You Would Have Done To YOU! Simple isn't it?

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Do unto who?
by PKsteven / October 29, 2005 12:02 PM PDT

I agree that spying or immoraly using some one elses connection isn't right, but Do Unto Others was far before we had signals traveling through the air. I see your basis for this but life has become more complicated than that. The questionee wasn't saying he was spying on anyone. This seems to be an issue that has been skipped and skipped. He is picking up some one elses connection, not purposly trying to get it. I for one, have a neighbor that I would trust enough, even if not I would take good security measures, that I would let share my connection as long as my ISP didn't care. However, if my neighbor was using my connection and didn't bother to tell me, then I would be not so much peeved as I would distrustful of him ever again. If you feel you are stuck in 1984 by my answer, well I don't see how you even came to that conclusion but to each his own. I was simply explaining the facts. Where I live, people have made many pringle can wi-fi signal exteders for neighbors and the ISP doesn't care so far and there are no laws against picking up another signal, just what you do with it. But many seem to live harmoniously this way so what is wrong with that? If you believe that our computers are spied on by governments and are that concerned, don't go outside because if I had (which i don't want, just example) your address, I could see your home on Google earth. They can zoom in and read the date on a penny but restrictions of privacy don't allow them to show that upclose of shots for good reasons. Talk about security. If the government wants your info bad enough, they will get it not just through a pc. Do you know you can pick up cell phone transmissions over an old uhf tv? I have accidentally picked up peoples phone conversations while i was on the phone talking to someone else, am I dishonest or did something beyond my control happen? I could have hung up but hey, I had every right to my channel on the phone and to finish my conversation also. So possibly, are others connections intruding upon YOUR home instead of the other way around? Maybe I could get mad and say people should keep their wireless connections away from mine. There we go, keep your connection to yourself so you don't whine about me picking it up.

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nice to see that blindness is rampant in FL(orida)
by jonah jones / November 16, 2005 7:30 PM PST
In reply to: Honorable mentions
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charles w-=-war driving...just for the sake of accuracy
by jonah jones / November 16, 2005 7:54 PM PST
In reply to: Honorable mentions

takes it's name from the hobos habit of marking houses as "friend or foe" during the depression years


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Other advice from our members
by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / October 26, 2005 9:18 AM PDT

No, it is not okay to use that wireless network without permission. There have been fairly recent news stories about this; someone was using someone elses wireless network from in front of that person's house for various purposes (I think there were a couple of illegal ones). The user of the wireless network can see you and will probably press charges. That network was intended for that person/family's use, not for the general public.

Submitted by: Clayton M.



I recently add wireless network to my house. The guy who sold it, told me that the people nearby can use the line with a wireless computer. He told me that it is not illegal, because the signal comes from the "air". To solve that i have to register a password. I,m really not certaly sure, but i think that if i have a program i can trace and see who is using it, but not what is looking, that is illegal. The cable modem and the router have their own security too.

Submitted by: Ivonne T.



Accessing any network without prior permission of the network owners is illegal. Just because it's wireless doesn't make it any different. Just imagine someone coming into your house with a network cable, attaching it to your router and then going back home and connect their computer to it. It's just the same, wireless or not. You wouldn't like, plus it's a form of hacking. Therefore illegal.

Also you can tell if someone else is connected to your network because the wireless router will have a list of all computers/devices connected to it. Each one would be assigned an IP address as well. But the question is, would your neighbour know? Well if he can't be bothered to secure the network (or doesn't know how to) he probably wouldn't know. You could get away with. But if he found out, prepare to hear those sirens coming to take you away.

There was a case here in England were a guy used a laptop to piggyback on to a wireless network, whilst sitting in his car. He was fined
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Let the ISP or Router Suppliers take some responsibility
by JohnCNR / October 27, 2005 8:16 PM PDT

One night I had my work's laptop on at home connected to my wireless router and discovered 5 unsecured WiFi networks in my area. After a bit of time I identified each one using my network tools and utilities (I'm an IT Manager). They were all using the default settings as supplied by the manufacturer, default admin password included. The following day I went round and spoke to them all and assisted them in correctly setting up their routers and access points.

I have even had people at work coming in and asking me why their 2Mb connection has started to run slowly, quick check shows that their neighbours are using their connection.

Seems that most ISPs are supplying ADSL WiFi enabled routers with default settings: password, SSID broadcast ON, Firewall OFF, UPnP ON etc and not advising their customers how important it is to lock down their router once it has been installed.

We're not all IT literate or have experience in Network Security.

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Identifying them
by insx / October 27, 2005 8:21 PM PDT

How did you figure out who they were? I would love to give my neighbours some advice but it could be any of about 50 houses.

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by JohnCNR / October 27, 2005 8:36 PM PDT
In reply to: Identifying them

There are several ways, luckily I live in a small close of 25 houses and know everyone.

Most home user WiFi enabled routers only transmit up to 300ft. Start with signal strength, SSID name and with a few tools you can identify the router manufacturer. With that you can check to see if the admin password is still the default, if you access the router you can check for connected devices.

If you can connect directly to their network, you just need to resolve the Network Name or PC Name/ID.

It is usually a good clue to who it belongs too as most people give their PCs/Network a family name.

I'm not prepared to discuss tools or applications that are available on an open forum, most IT Managers etc will have these available for their own use at work.

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Some neighbours make it very easy!
by acjd2 / October 27, 2005 11:26 PM PDT
In reply to: Identity

In my neighbourhood it was exceptionally easy to identify as they had changed the SSID to either their address or "The xxxx Family", Sounds daft I know but they were unlocked as well. I gave one of them a bit of a shock (IBM Employee) by sitting in his kitchen with my laptop and showing him the contents of his hard drive! He even had a web cam to monitor the babysitter recording on to his hard drive.

Things have changed a bit around here now, I'm glad to say.


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Wi-Fi Security Good Samaritan At Risk?
by wzawaski / October 28, 2005 12:41 AM PDT


What you say you did for your neighbors, seems and is described as admirable. By the simple implied nature that you uncovered others' unsecured Wi-Fi networks, may imply that you cracked, or broke-in, and used that or those networks without permission to do so. This simple act in its self, could possibly open you to criminal trespass issues or whatever problematic issues another might press forth. Who know what and if Good Samaritan laws could cover you...

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WiFi Security
by Mike Alaimo / October 28, 2005 3:47 AM PDT

I say if they are stupid enough to have the WEP encryption turned off, then they have whats coming to them!!!!

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I'm not so sure it's a violation of anything...
by schlice / October 28, 2005 9:51 AM PDT
In reply to: WiFi Security

Consider this...if your neighbor is watching a movie near an open window, and you look at it, are you violating their right to privacy?

The short answer is no. The longer answer is ''You can only be accused of a violation of privacy when there is a *reasonable expectation* of privacy.'' For example, change the above scenario, and call it a closed window with pulled blinds. That person would have an expectation of privacy, because they took reasonable measures to ensure their privacy. However, the person watching the movie near the open window can not claim a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The same, in effect, should apply to a wireless connection. Leavinig your wireless connection unsecured essentially removes any expectation of privacy on that connection. You cannot claim a reasonable expectation of privacy when you have taken no steps to ensure that your connection is, in fact, private.

And if you didn't do anything to ''break in,'' i.e. did not use any decryption tools to gain entrance, you can't reasonably claim ''breaking and entering.'' You could argue that the neighbor was providing a public service by broadcasting on unencrypted airwaves that anyone could pick up and use. It's the difference between listening to AM or FM, or listening to XM. FM is not secured, while XM is.

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Still Morally Wrong! A Thief is a Thief!
by eye2fun / October 29, 2005 5:15 AM PDT

You can semantically dance around the real issue, in order to validate criminal behavior. But you need to understand just what windows were invented for. They were not invented for someone other than yourself to look into in the first place. They were invented to let light in. That's their intent from the start. The same is true for yours or my wireless router. They're intended for yours or my personal use.

I can tell you right now, that if I saw you outside staring in my window, for a long time I could have you arrested. A glance is acceptable, but any duration beyond that is not. Along with this comes intent and purpose. What are you staring in my window for?

This would be the first question police would ask you before they snap on the cuffs. If the reason or intent is to use something within my home against my will, you're in violation of privacy laws. You have no right to use anything on my private property for your benefit without my permission. Today it is called stalking and thief of services.

At night it is even more obviously theft of privacy and certain always has moral and ethical questions expecting answers. The bottom line to all crime is still a question of ''Intent, Motive, and Opportunity''. Wrong answers to all of these and you've committed a crime if they are carried out with you walking away with anything you were not intended to have. At the least, it is still morally and ethically wrong.

Have you bothered to ask yourself how you would like it if this were reversed? What kind of deranged logic would you use then, to justify their actions? How about where do you live? I don't think I'd want to be your neighbor. Because it is also a matter of respect for others rights of privacy if not your own.

Finally, if you have the money to buy the equipment, then you have the money to buy the service that enables you to use that equipment on the Internet. If your just cheap and don't want to pay for that. Then don't buy the equipment in the first place. Because nobody would want to give you the service you could pay for yourself. I just hope your nothing like your deranged logic presented here, as it shows signs of criminal thought patterns. Maybe you should visit a shrink to delve into your self conscious further.

That last one was just a joke. So don't start stalking me. Please? Wink

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Load of BS...
by b8375629 / October 29, 2005 5:45 AM PDT

Hey pal, you don't want people 'stealing' your bandwidth, then take the time and make it secure and set up a encryption passkey on your wireless router so passersby can't use it. It doesn't take a lot of effort.

Before you start moralizing to everybody else, it's ALSO UP TO YOU to take some responsibility for keeping yourself secure, as well.

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What a laugh!
by eye2fun / October 29, 2005 6:33 AM PDT
In reply to: Load of BS...

I could picture you hawking your stolen wares on a street corner spouting this same crap, because I just informed the dolt standing next to me, you were about to pick his pocket.

I'm well aware there are people out there that choose not to do what is right. That's precisely why we have to take these other precautions and expenses in the first place. People like this costs all of us more money and time. It's a matter of common courtesy. Something I see your lacking.

I was responding to a poster who was attempting to justify a wrong by whatever means posible. Everything I say is tongue in cheek and shouldn't be taken as seriously as you've taken it. Lighten up or somebody you know is liable to take a beer bottle to your head.

My point was and is, the values we all use in dealing with each other everyday, ought to be alot less complicated. As it is their still too deep for your puny brain to fathom. Sounds like you missed the boat in that department and were hit by a previous beer bottle of sorts! Wink

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Okay Okay I Goofed! Sorry!
by eye2fun / October 29, 2005 7:15 AM PDT
In reply to: What a laugh!

I jumped up and made a fool of myself. It happens to the best of us. By the way you ever tasted your foot? Not too appetizing at all. heehee Sorry!

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You sure did. And I'm laughing.
by b8375629 / October 30, 2005 1:05 AM PDT

Apology accepted. We know you can't help yourself. (laughs)

Anyway, I only pointed out that you neglected that aspect of the whole issue here.

You can't ALWAYS depend on the other guy to do the right thing. Percautions have to be taken. I don't justify the taking of someone else's bandwidth unless they are willing to share it with others.

When I got a new router there a few months back, I set up SSID passkey encryption because I knew it was the safe thing to do. The instructions Linksys sent with the unit were so simple, even my technologically un-savvy girlfriend could set it up.

People have no excuse to protect themselves. None.

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Laughing? Back at Ya!
by eye2fun / October 30, 2005 8:37 AM PST

Your girlfriend must be smarter than the average person then. But I have a friend who has been using computers over 10 years. I was attempting to help them do the same thing, walk them through the setup of a Belkin Pre-N router and by the time I was through I was screaming and practically crying.

Most people should be required to get a license to Operate a Computer! Like my friend. Happy I'm sure you've run into the same type. But then again I have a house full of computers and working on ''Windows'' boxes makes me a good living. But for my own use I'll take Linux or a Mac any day, for oposite reasons. Macs just don't break, so nothing to repair. Mac OS-X is really simple and gets the job done. Linux is by far the most configurable and fun to play with.

Right now I'm just waiting to buy my first ''Super Computer''. No fear of viruses, spyware, or popups. The new ''Sony PLAYSTATION 3'' Cell processor will scream on games and with Linux installed it will leave everything in it's dust!

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Well that's nice...
by b8375629 / October 31, 2005 8:51 AM PST
In reply to: Laughing? Back at Ya!

Actually if you looked at the instructions for the Linksys WRT54GX (which I got at a discount), it?s pretty idiot-proof. Everything now is done with cartoons and illustrations to get most people through it. The hardest part is remembering what password you used.

Besides, I wouldn?t be surprised that many aren?t aware of the fact that their wireless link leaves them exposed to unwanted intruders. I try to make the people I know who use it, aware of that fact because I remember a time (in the not too distant past) when I wasn?t aware of it, either.

Nobody?s arguing with you about Linux or Macs. It?s just that reality dictates that Windows will be the standard operating system for years to come. That?s just the way it is, like it or not. That seems to be something a lot of elitist technoid-geeks out there, fail to realize.

Btw, I don?t play videogames so I could care less. I?ve better things to do with my time.

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by TheRogu3Pen / November 4, 2005 2:44 AM PST

I was just hanging up with my lawyer about getting a restraining order for your wireless signal invading my private home.
Ohh well..... thanks for the chuckle

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I'm glad I'm not your neighbor
by bwana2 / October 31, 2005 3:30 PM PST

In my neighborhood we learned to share when we were 3 years old. It's rewarding and it works.

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I share good...
by schlice / August 17, 2006 11:16 AM PDT

If you were to connect to my wireless router, you'd get a popup on your screen that said you were welcome to use my bandwidth but that everything you did online would be monitored. And any time someone connects with a MAC address that I don't know, they get that message and I record all of their activity (check out AirSnare and AirHorn). While I do protect myself by recording any activity besides my own, I allow people to share my bandwidth. Sometimes my neighbors jump on (I know their MAC addresses by heart now) when they're outside, and I'm OK with that. But that's me saying that it's fine to use my bandwidth.

I was countering a right to privacy argument earlier. Stealing bandwidth is not a right to privacy issue. It's a theft issue. If I were to leave my laptop unsecured on the table and someone took it, it's theft. Yes, maybe I should have protected it better, but it's still theft and the thief should be charged. Same is true for the wireless access I paid for. Even if I'm a big dummy and left it unsecured, it's theft, plain and simple.

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Barnyard Lawyer??
by Steves1030 / February 6, 2006 4:43 AM PST

Man you are way warped, I really get a kick out of listening to all you barnyard lawyers giving some off the wall advice and should really go back to school and study the laws harder this are so doomed!!!

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Take responsibility
by rklepper / October 28, 2005 12:54 AM PDT

We need to stop trying to make things someone else?s responsibility. If we want to use wireless, that is fine. The only thing is we either need to take responsibility for using it. Learn how to set passwords, authorize access, set WEP encryption, etc... If you do not want to take the time to do this either do not use it, or take your chances. You would not buy a car without learning how to use it.

That is the single biggest thing wrong with our society, we do not want to learn how to do anything (let someone else do it for us) and we want to place the responsibility for it not working in someone else.

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RE: Single thing most wrong with society
by bwana2 / October 31, 2005 3:44 PM PST
In reply to: Take responsibility

That's pretty specific. I'd say we could just generalize and just TRY to abide by the one golden rule and society would click in tempo.

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Let them come!
by rimbaud / October 28, 2005 1:07 AM PDT

I did not protect my router with a WEP password because I wanted my connection to be available to anyone. Is there another way I can advertise "It's OK with me for you to share my connection"? I don't even know who else is getting on my network (I can see their computer names and the IP addresses my router assigned them, but have no way of knowing who they are or of contacting them).

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Let them come
by insx / October 28, 2005 1:15 AM PDT
In reply to: Let them come!

Make your SSID "Open System" or "Please use" or something.

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Let Them Come
by schlice / March 4, 2006 3:17 PM PST
In reply to: Let them come

There is a great open source program called AirSnare ( that will monitor network traffic for unfriendly MAC addresses and alert you when a MAC address is found that isn't on the friendly list. AirSnare also monitors DHCP requests from clients. It includes a program called (appropriately enough) AirHorn, which will send Windows Popup messages to anyone connecting to your network, telling them whatever you want, such as "This is an open connection, enjoy" or whatever.

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People are Too Lazy! Here's a Great Solution!
by eye2fun / October 28, 2005 6:27 PM PDT

It seems most routers come with all the information, but most people are too lazy to use the manuals. They just plug them in and start using them. It's impossible for ISP's and Router manufacturers to do this work for us.

Now I have a question for you. Because of problems our routers have in telling us who is actually connected through them. Yes, figuring out unwanted users, that are using ''IP's'' assigned by your router's ''DHCP'' is pretty straight forward. You just find the ones that don't belong and block their ''Mac'' address. Simple! a lot of times these can be people unaware that their device is set to automatically select the strongest signal and your router just happens to be the one.

By the way there's a great number of networking devices that are capable of over 1,000 feet and with amplified equipment they even reach a whole lot further (like in close to a mile). N-series routers and cards are a prime example and send and receive signals over 1,000 ft even with objects in the way (houses, cars, telephone poles, etc: In fact they use it to their advantage).

The difficulty for the average user is finding the real thieves who have an assortment of tools to hack your network (Brute Forcers, etc.), including your WEP, and other encryption techniques. Most of these kinds of people don't accidentally connect to your network and they certainly don't use your router assignment of their ip address. So they don't show up on your ''DHCP'' client list. Unless you have your own sniffing tools and an advanced knowledge of the criminal side of things, they remain invisible. With any of todays Wireless Routers you are really in the dark as to the connections using your router as not only a way onto the Internet, but also into your computer.

So what can be done to a router that manufacturers can start putting into their equipment to safeguard us? I think a sniffer of sorts with better pass-thru logging would certainly help. ICMP ping blockers are certainly not enough, and only help keep out mechanical hack sniffers in search of a dolt client. Most home ''Router Firewalls'' are inherently simple and weak. Especially since your generic Windows installation leaves 1000's of ports open by default and the included firewall is a toy even for the most inexperienced newb hacker.

I think one thing people themselves can start doing is either buying a hardware firewall to set ahead of their ''Router'' or simply convert their own discarded computer into a Linux firewall. There are many very small Linux Firewall specific OS downloads available. Some as small as 20 megs and are pretty much a startup and run kind of thing. Even a novice can run some of them. Configured ahead of your network it can give you a greater peace of mind and more safety. If you really look into it, most of the hardware firewalls are running a form of embedded Linux anyway.

Now I'm going to give you a little shocker to think about. Since everyone should know that Microsoft Windows will continue to bleed, with only cover ups to try and patch the cavernous holes. Stacking various costly add on firewalls and anti-virus software will be a never ending ordeal.

Why not wake up and make a change! In the final analysis an overall winning choice is to dump the ''Hole-lier Than Thou'' Windows Operating System in favor of the ''Breakfast of Champions'' Linux operating system (used by more IT professionals and corporations, than any Winblows version). Because in the next version of ''Windows'' the greatest ''Hacker'' of them all ''Bill Gates'' will have all the keys, along with a whole bunch of willing dolts to keep Under His Rule. Being the good Corporate Boy Scout he is, he'll gladly turn you in, to cover his own mis-deeds Wink

''LINUX'' An Open Source Door to Your Future, Without Winblows Holes''! Happy

Here is one of the many sites on the net that provide a ''Background Check'' of Mr. Gates and his hacking history: The 1st Year College Dropout!

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